POSTSCRIPT / April 20, 2003 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Warning: Newspapers may be habit-forming!

HAPPY Easter to all, especially to the faithful who held on to the promise that light will eventually dispel the darkness, that life will emerge triumphant over death, always.

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PEACE & QUIET: Nobody in the business would say it, but there may be some risk in newspapers’ suspending publication on some days of Holy Week, usually starting on Good Friday until the next day, then hitting the streets again on Easter Sunday.

The risk here is that some readers might get used to the peace and quiet accorded by the absence of newspapers screaming about some saucy scandal and an assortment of bad news.

Can you imagine the catastrophe (for us) if readers discovered that theirs would be a quieter world and a less stressful life if rid of newspapers that generally thrive on the sex-crime-scandal formula?

Believe it or not, we have met some people who confide that their mundane existence had become less stressful since they stopped reading newspapers. Ouch!

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ADDICTIVE FARE: That, of course, is only one side of it. The other side is that newspapers have become as indispensable as bread and coffee at the breakfast table of most people.

Countless camp followers swear they go into fits without their newspaper being served with their coffee in the morning. Maybe newspapers, like coffee, are addictive.

The late Gen. Hans Menzi, owner and publisher of the Bulletin during the Marcos regime, used to tell us that selling a newspaper is much like selling a habit.

Many people reach for their favorite newspaper, tuck it under their arm and go, even without looking at its front-page offering. You witness this every morning and you start believing General Menzi.

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BRAND LOYALTY: Reading habit is one of the biggest problems of moneyed businessmen and politicians who want to establish the ultimate newspaper whose content, packaging and delivery would overwhelm the competition.

When we cite habit, we refer to brand loyalty. Readers who have become habituated with one newspaper usually stick to it as long as it lives up to their expectations.

Mark that point about expectations. Many big and seemingly durable newspapers here and abroad have gone down in readership, some of them eventually folding up, when they started to lose their relevance.

A newspaper has to be alert to the changing moods of its readers and the information needs of the community — and adjust to them. A newspaper must be continually updating its demographic research data and reacting accordingly.

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NOT ALL MONEY: A newspaper that remains deaf and blind to these elusive elements will soon lose relevance and drop in readership. We can cite case studies, but it might be imprudent to mention names here.

Many uninitiated publishers discover too late (after they have invested millions like they poured water into a sandpit) that however impressive is their editorial stable and modern their equipment, they have no guarantee of brisk sales, climbing profits and growing influence.

They then learn too late that it’s not all money.

If it were just that, what would stop the Marcoses, to give a random example, from funding the Mother of all Philippine Newspapers designed to capture the field and carry their message? But they themselves know it’s not all money.

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CREDIBILITY PIVOTAL: If one had the money… then lift all budgetary constraints, hire the biggest names in media and marketing, set up the most modern equipment… there is still no guarantee that the newspaper would sell big.

The investment could eventually evaporate if one ingredient is missing — credibility.

Unfortunately for instant publishers, one cannot buy credibility. He earns it, and nurtures it, over time.

To hide their identity, and their ulterior motives, the real owners sometimes resort to an elaborate layering with a front man, a dummy, displayed prominently as the deep pocket.

But this deception does not work, People have a way of piercing through the corporate veil to find out who is/are financing the newspaper and what the agenda are.

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SEASONAL PAPERS: The May 2004 elections are just one year away. The season is neigh for the proliferation of new newspapers, much in the same way mushrooms pop up with the onset of the wet season.

We welcome them in the spirit of letting a thousand flowers bloom. Every page printed, every word said, is a contribution to the democratic process of dialogue.

We expect most of them to fold after the elections, as programmed by their owners and as dictated by market forces. But that is immaterial to the agenda of the businessmen and the politicians behind them. They simply have to publish a newspaper for 2004.

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WHAT, NO WMD?: The inspection teams sent by the United Nations to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq asked for more time to complete their job. But an impatient United States brushed aside their request and invaded Iraq to root out itself the supposed weapons.

What happened? It has been a month since the invasion. The US is still tramping around, hoping to stumble on the weapons that it said were there and whose presence it used as the excuse to attack Iraq.

Around $100 billion has been spent for the month-old war. Another $2 trillion will be spent to repair the war damage. The billions were diverted from programs alleviating human misery just to prove the US claim that Iraq indeed had WMD.

That’s just the money. What about the human lives lost, the families and careers disrupted, the priceless museum pieces and other relics of antiquity lost forever?

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MORE QUESTIONS: Reader Bobby Tordesillas of says in an email: “The true color or the true intentions of the invasion is beginning to manifest more and more each day.”

He notes: “The US is now saying there are possibly 1,000 sites where the weapons of mass destructions are located and they have only inspected 20 sites. So please give them more time.” He raises these questions:

  1. If the Americans had this info all the while, why didn’t they give it to the UN inspectors so as to guide them and tell them where to search?
  2. If they had this info, then they knew it will take the limited UN inspectors some time to look for the WMD. So why were they too impatient with the UN inspectors? Now they are the ones trying to justify why it is taking them so long.
  3. Why is the military the one looking for the WMD and not the UN inspectors? Are soldiers better qualified than the UN technicians?
  4. If there were only 1,000 sites, wouldn’t it have been a billion times cheaper, and a billion times more peaceful, to have hired 1,000 UN inspectors than to invade Iraq?
  5. If indeed Iraq had WMD, why didn’t Iraqis use them as a matter of self-defense?
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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 20, 2003)

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